More time may not mean more learning

Boston public schools will add 40 minutes to the teaching day at more than 50 elementary and middle schools.

More time doesn’t guarantee more learning, writes Emily Richmond in The Atlantic. Quality matters as much as quantity, according to a new report from the Center on Education Policy.

Researchers analyzed 17 low-performing schools in 11 districts that expanded the school day. Test scores and graduation rates improved. But the longer day wasn’t the only change.

Successful schools used “community partnerships to provide extra enrichment programs and services the school’s budget couldn’t cover,” writes Richmond.

Teachers who have more opportunities to collaborate with each other tend to be more effective at their jobs, particularly in their work with students. “An hour of professional development seems to be almost as helpful to teachers, and in some cases more helpful, than an hour in the classroom,” said Matthew Frizzell, a policy center research associate and one of the report’s co-authors.

Boston schools with longer days have seen mixed results, reports the Boston Globe.

For many schools, a longer day has failed to dramatically boost academic achievement or did so only temporarily. The uneven results prompted school district officials to scrap the extra minutes at some schools and the state to pull funding or pursue receiverships at others.

But other schools have successfully used an extended day to boost MCAS scores or expand offerings in the arts and other electives.

“I think there are lessons to be learned,” said John McDonough, interim superintendent. “We know time matters, but it only matters if it is used well.”

At the Eliot K-8 Innovation School, which added an hour to its school day, there’s more time for enrichment, reports the Globe.

On Monday morning, 25 third-graders built and programmed motorized cars out of Legos in a robotics class. Students said they did not mind the longer school day.

“Time goes by fast,” said John D’Amico, 8.

As the students buzzed the cars around the classroom, their regular classroom teacher, Holly McPartlin, mentored a new teacher downstairs, observing her teach and then providing feedback.

Eliot is considered a model of good implementation. But the Edwards Middle School, once “the poster child for the success of the extended-day movement in Massachusetts,” has seen performance slide after “a high turnover of principals,” reports the Globe.

Singing their way to academic success

At Voice Charter School in Queens, K-8 students learn to read music, play a little piano, harmonize and “sing, sing, sing,” reports the New York Times. Voice students do significantly better in math and somewhat better in reading than the New York City average.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voices Charter School in Queens.

First graders sing in the winter concert at Voice Charter School in Queens.

Seventy percent of Voice students qualified for free lunch last year. All are admitted by lottery. No one auditions.

Teacher Kate Athens said skills learned in music class translate to her fourth-grade classroom. “They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”

Younger students at Voice usually have music twice a day, and older students once, on average. To make time, the “school day is unusually long, from 7:55 a.m. to 4:25 p.m., which can be hard for small children,” reports the Times.

Twenty percent of the city’s public schools have no arts teachers, and low-income students are the least likely to be taught art and music, reports the Times. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has increased funding for arts teachers.

Why edutourists go astray


A math class in Shanghai

Edutourists often go astray, writes Tom Loveless on Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.

Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times declared the “Shanghai secret” is teacher training and a work day that allows for professional development and peer interaction.

After touring schools in Japan, Chalkbeat’s Elizabeth Green endorsed lesson study and “pedagogical reforms from the 1980s and 1990s” to boost math learning.

High-scoring Finland is a prime edutourist destination, writes Loveless. “The Education Ministry of Finland hosted at least 100 delegations from 40 to 45 countries per year from 2005 to 2011.”

Singling out a top achieving country—or state or district or school or teacher or some other “subject”—and then generalizing from what this top performer does is known as selecting on the dependent variable.  The dependent variable, in this case, is achievement.  To look for patterns of behavior that may explain achievement, a careful analyst examines subjects across the distribution—middling and poor performers as well as those at the top.  That way, if a particular activity—let’s call one “Teaching Strategy X”—is found a lot at the top, not as much in the middle, and rarely or not at all at the bottom, the analyst can say that Teaching Strategy X is positively correlated with performance.  That doesn’t mean it causes high achievement—even high school statistics students are taught “correlation is not causation”—only that the two variables go up and down together.

Edutourists routinely go to top-scoring countries, but rarely check whether their favored strategy is used in middle- and low-scoring nations, writes Loveless.

In addition, edutourists visit a selected sample of the best schools, he writes.  Confirmation bias makes it likely they’ll see what they expect to see.

Charter with $125K teachers isn’t an outlier


Rhena Jasey, a Harvard graduate, is a founding teacher at The Equity Project charter school. Photo: Richard Perry/New York Times

The Equity Project, a New York city charter that pays teachers $125,000 and up, produced strong gains (1.6 years in math, .4 years in reading) over four years, according to an MDRC study that got lots of press, writes Neerav Kingsland.

However, the press missed an important point: The average New York City charter school delivers virtually the same impressive gains (1.5 years in math. .6 years in reading), according to a CREDO study.

The city’s 200 charter schools “have different instructional and human capital models,” writes Kingsland. There’s more than one way to improve student learning.

The state should lift its charter cap and let New York City open more charter schools, he concludes.

KIPP boosts academics, but not character

KIPP schools do a great job of teaching academics, but the stress on character education isn’t producing students with more “grit,” persistence, self-control or other character strengths,  writes Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor.

KIPP charters — primarily middle schools — recruit low-income, minority students. In addition to “factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction),” KIPP schools try to develop “seven character strengths — zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence,” writes Steinberg.

Mathematica study compared students whose families had applied to a KIPP middle school but lost out in the lottery to students who’d won the KIPP lottery. If KIPP kids have more motivated parents, so do the children in the control group.

 . . . KIPP students outperformed the comparison children on numerous measures of achievement, across a range of subject areas. KIPP students also spent more time on homework. . . .

However . . . the KIPP children showed no advantage on any of the measures of character strengths. They weren’t more effortful or persistent. They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement. They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control. In fact, they were more likely to engage in “undesirable behavior,” including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time. They were more likely to get into trouble at school. Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law. Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious.

While nearly 90 percent of former KIPP students enroll in college, only a third earn a degree. That’s triple the graduation rate of students from comparable disadvantaged backgrounds, but far below KIPP’s expectations.

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.  - See more at: http://www.kipp.org/careers/kipp-team-and-family#sthash.rDwbdhNJ.dpuf

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.

Steinberg believes character education is not the best way to develop students’ self-regulation. Other approaches include: meditation, yoga, aerobic exercise and “cognitive behavioral programs, such as those used to help children learn impulse control.”

Some KIPP schools do use these techniques.

The family that dines together . . .

The family that dines together gets along fine together, reports The Week.

As Bruce Feiler writes in his book, The Secrets of Happy Families:

A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders. Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem.

. . . a University of Michigan report . . . discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.

Knowing family history predicts a child’s emotional well-being, according to an Emory study. Children who know the family stories — including “natural ups and downs” —  are more confident and more convinced they can “control their world,” says Feiler.

Good principals attract good teachers

Good principals attract, develop and retain good teachers, writes Dana Goldstein in Slate.

In our effort to help teachers close achievement gaps, let’s look beyond tenure panic, incentive pay, and even the Common Core. How about a new education reform push, one that focuses less on the individual teacher in her classroom and more on the principal who supervises teachers’ work?

. . . When McKinsey surveyed top teachers on what it would take for them to move to a higher-poverty school, they responded that the biggest draw, even more important than a raise, would be a respected principal who created a positive school environment.

Today’s principals are expected to be managers and instructional leaders, writes Goldstein.  An effective principal articulates the school’s mission and helps teachers improve their teaching skills.

When an excellent principal is hired at a high-poverty school, time for teacher training and collaboration increases, student test scores rise by 5 to 10 points annually, and ineffective teachers begin to leave — yes, even under today’s often overly restrictive tenure policies. When a good principal departs, the progress unwinds and student achievement drops.

Good principals “multiply the effects of good teaching,” she writes.

By contrast, superintendents aren’t all that important, according to a new Brookings analysis of Florida and North Carolina data.

Superintendents come and go without affecting student achievement by more than a small fraction, the report concludes.

Figure. Variance in Fourth and Fifth Grade Student Achievement in Mathematics Associated with Various Influences, North Carolina, 2000-01 to 2009-10

From a U to a J

California charters are more likely to be outperforming traditional public schools, concludes a report on the last five years by the California Charter Schools Association.

Two years ago, the graph of charter school scores was U-shaped: 21 percent of California charters ranked in the top 10 percent in the state and 21 percent ranked in the lowest 10 percent.

It’s now more of a J with more high-performing charters on the right and fewer low performers on the left, writes Jed Wallace, president of the CCSA.

Students at charter schools serving low-income populations are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in a school that is among the top five or ten percent of all public schools statewide.

More than half of the students (52 percent) attending charters serving a majority high poverty population attend charter schools that are in the top quartile of all public schools statewide, compared to only 26 percent of similar students attending traditional public schools.

The only charters that underperform are those that serve predominantly advantaged students. That matches national trends. Perhaps it’s because urban charters are more likely to follow the “no excuses” model, while suburban charters are more likely to provide a progressive alternative.

Nothing succeeds like Success


Success Academy charter students at a pep rally.  Credit: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Eva Moskowitz just ruined her chances of getting 14 more Success Academy charters approved in New York City, writes Richard Whitmire in the Daily News. Her students aced the state’s math and English exams.

Whereas only 35% of New York City students scored proficient in math, 94% of her students rated as proficient. Whereas only 29% of city students met English standards, 64% of her students met the standards.

At her Bed-Stuy-1 school, where 95% of the students are African American or Latino, 98% passed the math test, with 8 in 10 scoring at the advanced level.

“Nobody likes competition,” writes Whitmire.

Statewide, 7 of the 15 top-scoring schools for math proficiency are Success charters.

What’s the secret of Success Academy’s success? asks Robert Pondiscio, also in the Daily News.

. . . 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level?

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping 63 points on the Celtics in the playoffs. It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by 18 strokes.

It’s harder to raise reading scores, Pondiscio writes. It’s “all but impossible to test prep your way to a high score on a third to eighth grade reading test, especially the more challenging Common Core tests.”

Yet two out of three Success Academy scholars were proficient in reading.

Expect to hear that Moskowitz has solved the achievement gap and that the humiliation of Mayor de Blasio, who targeted Moskowitz during his campaign and tried unsuccessfully to squeeze three of her schools out of Education Department space, is now complete.

From the other side of the room, we will hear charges that Success creams top students, gets rid of low-achievers through attrition and test preps kids within an inch of their lives, or even cheats.

We need “serious, unbiased experts and observers” to figure out “how these extraordinary results are being achieved,” Pondiscio writes. If they’re for real, we need to figure out how to replicate them.

Attrition doesn’t explain KIPP’s success

KIPP students gain an additional eight to 11 months of learning in reading and math over three years, compared to students in nearby middle schools,say Mathematica researchersStudent attrition doesn’t explain KIPP’s success, they write in Education Next.

KIPP middle schools and the district-run schools nearby have similar attrition patterns: Lower achievers are more likely at both kinds of schools.

What’s different is that KIPP schools admit fewer transfers in seventh and eighth grade and late entrants tend to be higher achieving than those who started in fifth grade.

However, most KIPP gains occur in the first year, before anyone’s left or transferred,  say the Mathematica analysts.

ednext_XIV_4_gill_fig03-small

Compared to feeder elementary schools, KIPP students are more likely to be black or Latino and low-income. They are slightly less likely to be English Learners or in special education. Prior achievement is the same.

However, it’s hard to measure “parent characteristics, prior motivation, or student behavior,” the researchers write. “For example, KIPP students might benefit from attending school with peers who are especially motivated to accept KIPP’s academic and behavioral demands.”